When Breath of the Wild released in 2017, the gaming industry was taken by storm. Not only was it a reimagination of the beloved series’ classic style of gameplay, it also completely changed up the formula of open-world games. The freedom to go wherever you please whenever you feel like it in a world filled to the brim with things to do and discover allowed for countless hours of entertainment. Because of how beloved Breath of the Wild is to me and many others, I have to be honest and say I wasn’t completely sure if its sequel, Tears of the Kingdom, would catch on quite as well.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom turned out to be one of the most impressive games I have ever played from a gameplay perspective. I already praised the freedom in Breath of the Wild, but they dialed it up to eleven for this new installment. While you don’t have the abilities from its predecessor, the abilities Link now has, thanks to his new prosthetic arm, easily make up for that. From the get-go I could just feel that Ultrahand is a complete game-changer. Pretty much any loose object in the world can be stuck to another object, which allows you to make some wild contraptions. Then, using the many kinds of Zonai-devices, you can make your creations move, spit fire, function as a homing battering ram, and so much more. There are loads of possibilities, and maybe the most impressive part is that it all just works so well. The game never crashed, even when I was cooking up some insane devices.
The other abilities, Fuse and Ascend, were really fun to experiment with as well. Especially Fuse was interesting to me. Due to story-reasons, a lot of the weapons in Hyrule are not particularly strong anymore, and monsters are stronger than they were in Breath of the Wild. It’s up to you to find materials that you can then, you guessed it, fuse to your equipment to increase its attack power or give it special properties. Or you can put certain materials on your arrows while firing them. Finding out what each piece of loot does for your weapons is a lot of fun to figure out, and it gives the many monster parts you find in the world more of a purpose (though you can still use them to make elixers and such, it’s just less tempting to sell everything because it might come in useful when you wouldn’t expect it to). Ascend is also quite a useful ability, though it took me a while to actually remember that I had it.
Taking to the skies and digging in
But what fun are these abilities if there’s no world to set loose your chaos upon? The entirety of Hyrule as you know it from Breath of the Wild is at your disposal, albeit with a few changes. The gameplay loop on the ground is about what you’ve come to expect from Tears of the Kingdom’s predecessor. You can go anywhere and find something to do. Shrines, Koroks, enemy camps and some fun quests from the many inhabitants of the kingdom. Again, it’s more of the sandbox you know, but your new abilities make it feel fresh enough. Somehow though, the map got more than twice as large.
Let’s start with the sky islands. The Zonai I mentioned earlier were an ancient people in Hyrule, and these islands were their doing. These areas hold new puzzles, bosses and ways of traversal that are well worth exploring. And then there is the underground area, which is basically as large as the entire map. It doesn’t particularly feel that large, and even though there were some very interesting areas I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t particularly compelled to explore the underground that much. It’s not exactly like the classic Zelda dungeons I and many fans were hoping for, but I will say they stepped away a bit from the way Divine Beasts worked in Breath of the Wild. Certain points in Tears of the Kingdom are a joy to explore.
Why the Tears?
Just like in Breath of the Wild the story of Tears of the Kingdom does not limit what the player can do or where they can go. However it feels a bit more prevalent in this installment, which I enjoyed. In the first game Hyrule had been without the Royal Family for a hundred years already. Due to the events of this game being the reason the world is in the state that it is, it makes the feeling of playing Tears of the Kingdom feel a bit more ‘weighty’. There’s no time-limit like in Majora’s Mask or anything, but the constant reminders of the messed up state of Hyrule do put a sense of urgency into Tears of the Kingdom that I appreciate a lot. When you take a break from all the side-content and delve into the story you’ll find a lot of great set-pieces and locations. The main quest is vast and takes many hours to complete, even if you end up brute-forcing it a little at the middle point like I did.
A speck of Gloom
While The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom absolutely delivered in many aspects, there were a few points that would sour the experience, if ever so slightly. For example there are certain abilities that you gain throughout the story, which are just not very intuitive to use. Also, I mentioned it just now, but when I got about halfway through the game’s story I just kind of zoned out of the exploration. Breath of the Wild’s gameplay loop is great, but after experiencing it for a total of 150 hours across two games, it started to get repetitive. That might not be completely fair to Tears of the Kingdom on its own, it was my experience. The underground area is cool for a bit, but didn’t invite me to explore it as much as the rest of the map.
Tears of the Kingdom is an incredible game. It follows up Breath of the Wild very well and manages to improve some of the grievances I had with the first game. The biggest complaint I really have is that there is just so much of it. After a while, it ever so slightly starts to feel like a chore to walk into a shrine and figure out what to do, even if the game piques your creativity at nearly every turn. Maybe it’s just a little too much of a good thing. Wherever the future of the Legend of Zelda franchise lies, I will follow, but maybe a smaller scale would help the next game truly grip me again from the beginning to the end.
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